This evening, Spawktalk, who goes by the name of Sean Last for The Right Stuff (TRS), wrote a rebuttal to my first post on the topic of race, "Lewontin's Fallacy" and Race. As I explained in the comments on his article, I've opted not to reply for a multitude of reasons, but am still interested in writing a reflection on the discussion we had. First, though, I want to talk about my experiences reading the article first.
Having been familiar with the kind of articles TRS produces, I was honestly a bit nervous. They're typically, even as Sean admitted, quite inflammatory and hostile, especially towards liberals (which, I suppose, is what they might see me as, though I'd disagree). I was surprised to find that the only things that caused my brow to furrow while reading his article were the title (which Michael Enoch admitted was not Sean's doing) and the subtexts under the pictures (which were funnier than they were offensive). It was a pleasant surprise, although it really shouldn't have been. My exchange with Sean was quite friendly, and so I shouldn't have suspected his rebuttal to be much different.
The comments were even more surprising, at least initially. My experiences on TRS have told me that the commenters can and will be very vicious in their responses, and can quickly reject any type of reasoned discussion in exchange for aggression and toxicity. This was by far not the case tonight. The commenters were friendly, gracious, and quite nice to speak to. As one commenter expressed, it was a real breath of fresh air. As I said there as well, there's no reason that people of different views can't have a friendly discussion. While this was initially the case, now the comments seem to have devolved into the typical exchange I'd expect there. It's a shame, but what can you do?
To reflect on the discussion itself, it was quite enjoyable. Sean brought up some interesting points, and there were moments where I had to concede to his arguments, and ultimately I took away some new perspectives; namely how race realists typically define "race." To Sean, race does retain a degree of arbitration, and it is only one of a multiplicity of ways in which someone can examine human genetic variation. I came to realize this isn't entirely inconsistent with my own views; the conclusions we draw, however, regarding the significance of racial categories, or whether or not those categories are objective or biological in nature, is what we ended up having to agree to disagree on.
A lot of the points in the article seemed to be things I've addressed already, either in response to commenters or in sections of my other posts on the topic. Sean and I do fundamentally disagree on one factor which I think is important to bring up. Say, for example, that the social ramifications of racial categories is what has caused group differentials in IQ. To Sean, this is still a validation of race as a human taxonomy. To me, this is evidence of social construction, specifically not of biological validation. I don't see us reconciling this difference in interpretation, but I think it's interesting to note the stark contrast between the conclusions we drew from the same point. It just further shows the complication behind this subject.
Sean also brought up a point about the AAA, AAPA and HGP's definitions of race, and how they are problematic given race realists' definition of race. I absolutely agree, and I emailed the AAA on their article expressing my concerns. I've yet to receive a reply, and so I hope others will ask too, demanding a higher priority on the question. At the same time, Sean and I disagree on our trust in these organizations. I trust the consensus view of anthropologists while Sean is cynical of them. While I believe that these organizations have a much greater advantage in terms of access to scientific literature regarding the subject, Sean believes our access is comparable to theirs. Again, I suppose we'll have to agree to disagree on these points.
I don't think that Sean fully understands what I mean when I talk about the social or cultural construction of race, and so I'll clarify my views here. When one speaks about the social construction of race, we are drawing attention to its origins, its modern usage, and its social ramifications. One could argue that all things are socially constructed, but this is usually very uninformative. For example, we can talk about the social construction of a hammer; however, hammers were explicitly invented by humans, and so we naturally define what it is and what qualifies as a hammer. We could also talk about the social construction of grass, but this has a pretty universal consensus. Having said all of that, I do not believe that "race" as a general taxonomy is overwhelmingly a social construct. When I say that race is a social construct, I mean that our decision as to what groups of humans qualify as different races is socially constructed; that is, the classification itself is not overwhelmingly a social construct, but what people we choose to put into that classification (for humans, anyway) is. Another way to put it: race is "a culturally constructed label that crudely and imprecisely describes real variation" (Relethford 2009). I love that quote.
If I think of anything else to say about our exchange, I'll just keep adding it onto this post. All in all, I enjoyed the past two months of discussion over this topic, though there were major time gaps between our replies. I think that Sean puts a lot of thought into the responses he makes, and as I stated on his article, I greatly respect his intellect and passion for the subject. He seems to be, to me, an intellectually honest person, and I hope that he dedicates his time and effort to a related field of study later on in his career. While I personally believe racial categorization is problematic and mostly uninformative, there is no reason to stop someone who disagrees from contributing to the academic discussion over this issue. Our disagreement is based on our experiences, and so a shared experience in the future might bring us and like-minded individuals closer to an agreement.
Thank you all very much for reading.